Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

I wish all my wonderful readers a Happy Thanksgiving.  You are definitely something I am very thankful for.

Monday, November 23, 2009

O is for Outta Here!

Last week, some pretty big news fell from the sky in the world of marketing; and it had nothing to do with vampires or the equally scary black Friday shoppers.

Oprah announced that she is leaving her show…eventually. On Friday, Oprah put in her 20-month notice on her landmark daytime talk show.

The network executives at ABC will need every second to find a replacement show that has even a tenth of the reach and magnitude of Oprah. Unfortunately, they will try and almost certainly will fail.

The primary reason for this is that Oprah is an original. She was first on television to discuss the issues that matter most to her audience and subsequently gained their trust. She is the leader and the next host will not have that same trust.

Secondly, the Oprah dynamic wasn’t built in 20 months but over the course of 20 years. I have a hard time envisioning the live-by-the-numbers executives giving the replacement twenty years.

This dilemma at ABC is really a testament to what Oprah has built. The strong and meaningful connection she has developed with her audience (or customers) is unmatched. I am willing to bet that most Oprah fans could picture themselves having coffee with her in their kitchen.

Behind this fact is an important marketing/business/life lesson.

While I have never met her, every move made under the watchful public eye appears genuine. She is generous, happy and down to earth because that’s who she is and not because appearing to be is good for business. (If you believe otherwise, ask yourself if you could fake that for 24 years.)

In today’s marketplace there is a constant conquest to be accepted by the masses. However, many brands forget what they are at their core: human. The ones that can discover this will have a great advantage (this will require more than a twitter account).

Unfortunately, were currently in a time when it’s quickly becoming convention to teach the exact opposite; to treat yourself as if you are a brand.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Ideas to Market the Rochester Amerks

I love hockey. It's an indescribably wonderful sport.

When I was just about knee-high, my dad took my brother and I to our first hockey game, sometime around 1990 or 1991. It was our hometown Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League. We were both instantly addicted to the entire experience and have been fans ever since.

Fast forward to today. After a few well-documented disaster seasons the club lost a lot of fans and the owners were forced to sell. Now they have new owners in their second year who committed to winning and so far have delivered. The Amerks are off to a 14-5 start; which includes a franchise record 11 game win streak.

But the fans have not to come back. Their two highest attendance totals are 6,035 and 4,124 with five games drawing totals of less than 3,000 fans. This for a team that drew nearly 8,000 fans per game less than ten years ago.

I must say that the new owners and management deserve a lot of credit. They understood that even the greatest marketer cannot successfully sell a loser so they even spent their own money to sign players (not solely relying on the NHL parent to sign players) and form a winning team.

They have made sound business decisions as well. They welcomed back many retired players to be present in the arena and returned to wearing the traditional read, white and blue sweaters.

However, there is still more that must be done.

1) Fix the ticket prices- I still contend that the ticket prices are too high. Tickets are priced at five different levels; $20, $19, $17, $14 and $11- all are way too expensive for one night of entertainment for a family of four- especially in uncertain economic times. They should cut the prices by $2 across the board. However, I know they won't do that- especially if they didn't as a goodwill gesture immediately after purchasing the team.

So I purpose two different changes. The first is to eliminate the $1 increase on all tickets purchased on the day of the game. The upcharge is scary similar to the "gotcha" fees that banks and airlines stick their customers with. Last time I checked on the banks and airlines this customer care policy was not exactly paying off. Secondly, simplify the ticket price levels (or arena map) from five down to four. This simpler price plan will at least give the appearance of some price relief.

Even though I attend games I currently never pay full price for a ticket due to heavy discounting. In the long run the Amerks would greatly benefit from creating a simpler price points that are closer to the intersection of supply and demand but eliminating the heavy discounting.

2) Customers already in the building are amazing opportunities- Even though a lot of the fans who attend Amerks games are regulars, they're plenty who are not. It's crucial to identify these people and "move them up the ladder" into more regular customers. It takes time and some brand building- you cannot get from the bottom rung to the top in one step. Step one is to get their contact information, which is easy, but the Amerks don't attempt to do.

Here's one way to start.

In a busy area set up a table with a ballot box and contestant forms with a question to answer. Who will score the first goal of the game? At what minute? The three stars? The final Score? Just add lines for name, address, phone and email. Winners take home a small prize like an autograph or gift card.

And you could go a step further and set up a separate ballot box for kids to participate in and later send a kids club form or a birthday card if you get a date of birth.

Soon the database will have a lot of fresh names to send marketing materials. Be careful because over send and your messages become instant junk.

3) Promote Smarter- The Amerks are currently using this television ad to promote its games. It's quite cheesy it's and grammatically awful: "There's no limit to the fun you get."

But I could even excuse that. What's inexcusable is trying to position their unique product on "fun." When selling entertainment, fun is assumed. Tell us why Amerks hockey is unique. Excite the fans. Give the product an identity. A far better ad would be video that plays on the scoreboard before the game- which unfortunately has not made it to Youtube yet.

Additionally, the Amerks (and they're not alone) market themselves to many different segments of fans using the same tactics. Does it make sense to market to a college student using the same tactics as you would a family? Of course not. Taking the extra steps to customize their marketing efforts when reaching out to vastly differing segments is critical because each is driven in a unique way.

4) Make Better Use of Media- It's no secret that the quantity and rate of media that is being consumed by everyone is rapidly increasing. Today, everyone with a Facebook account or blog can be a media outlet. The Amerks are no different. They utilize social media tools such as Facebook, Youtube and Twitter as well as more traditional forms such as the newspaper. There are a lot of options to engage fans today.

But it's never the outlet that's engaging- it's the content delivered.

Currently, the Amerks content less than engaging. Their Youtube channel features some postgame interviews, practice footage and press conferences but not much else.

To be more engaging they need content that is unique, interesting and original. And the quality of media is holds an an even greater importance because they're points during the season when fans cannot consume the primary product (live home games) for six to ten days at a time.

For instance, the Amerks could show off all the unique places the city has to offer to the players that new here- and record it. Perhaps you can take them for their first garbage plates.

Or create a video diary of the Amerks on road trip.

Find out the how they got to the AHL. Everyone has a story...but sometimes you have to dig for it.

The possibilities are limitless.

While the media is changing dramatically; one rule is not. Be interesting.

Tell me what you think. What suggestions do you have for the Rochester Amerks? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Story of Mac and PC

I discuss Apple a lot on this blog, so I’ll be brief and I'll try not to gush too much. However, I do want to point out something Apple does really really well: Advertise.

It has been four years since we have welcomed Mac and PC into our homes and each visit they hammer home the same pro-Mac message: they are easy to use, powerful and virtually virus free.

What makes them so great?

They understand that strategy (the big picture) is the key to marketing success and that requires the same focused message year after year.

The commercials are tactically strong as well. They’re easily recognizable, original and most importantly, remarkably simple.

While the Mac vs. PC debate will rage on, the marketing winner is clear. These ads have done their part to position the Mac brand as the higher-end, easy to use, incrediably capable, personal computer in the minds consumers. And as a result, Mac sales have grown each year since.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Undoing of Under Armour

I always admired the Under Armour brand. I loved their product. I loved their “We Must Protect This House” marketing campaign and when my friend would wear his Under Armour cold gear to play intramural football, I admit, I was a little jealous. The stuff was just cool.

(Editors Note: If you look back to the Brands I Love post, I even mention Under Armour.)

Quickly, UA became a hot brand and like most do they took advantage. UA was on display throughout every sporting goods and athletic shoe store in the United States. They added line-extensions into gloves, socks, sweatbands, sweatshirts, jackets, golf wear, cleats and made big bets on running shoes. Don't believe me?

This unfocused short-term approach paid off for awhile. Their revenue and profit is outlined below.

2005.... $281 net.... $19 profit
2006.... $430.6 net....$38.9 profit
2007.... $606.5 net....$52.5 profit
2008.... $725.2 net....38.2 profit

(in millions of US dollars)

However, last week marked an important point for UA. Their stock was hammered by investors after announcing a 16 percent increase in sales. How could that be?

Investors were reacting to a conference call to analysts where they confessed they would not see growth in the highly sought after footwear category in the upcoming year. All this after UA made a major splash in athletic shoes at the Super Bowl in 2008 ($25 million dollar buy) complimented with a rush of ads in 2009. According to footwear analyst quoted in Ad Age, “they tried to go big” but “they would have been much smarter to start small.”

Analysts seem to agree that their poor performance in footwear was due to poor tact. The campaign into the category was too expensive, poorly timed and failed by “notably less testosterone-fueled” advertising.

However, none came to the conclusion that the running shoe market is too crowded and they don’t belong. Even more unfortunate is that the UA Founder and CEO Kevin Plank didn’t think so either despite this early warning sign. He says “I just want to drive home the point; we couldn’t have greater confidence in the upside of our long-term potential in footwear.”

Too crowded? Just off the top of my head: Nike, Adidas, New Balance, Asics, Reebok and Saucony.

UA became a hot brand because they had great brand strategy: create a category and give it a great name. A perfect name in fact. UA created the compression wear category. It stayed warm in cold weather, was breathable in the heat, and didn’t retail moisture. As a bonus the product felt great: put it on and your muscles felt as through they would rip right through the shirt.

Now because of a lack of focus and over-saturation of line extensions, Under Armour is cooling off fast and feeling like a fad.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Go Vote

Today is election day and I just want to stress the importance of caring about the direction the country is in. Although it is not a big Presidential election, the local and state elections have a tremendous impact on our lives. We need to hold our leadership accountable to the descisions they make on our behalf...but that means we must be accountable by being informed and electing great leaders.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Rochester Top 100

I just want to throw a quicky up for the Rochester Top 100 which came out yesterday. I want to say congrats to these companies and their employees. This community would look a lot different without you. A complete list can be found here.

What I love most about the list is that the list is littered with UNIQUE businesses that the average person would never think existed. For instance, check out what is going on at Sydor Optics. Now that's innovation.